Earlier, we released Part I of an interview that MOV curator Viviane Gosselin did with our guest curators Greg Johnson and Martin Lewis. Here's Part II, where they delve into what it was like to actually build the exhibition, and get into Dan White's inspirations.
VG: Could you talk about the decision to construct a huge model of the Máté Residence in the centre of the exhibition gallery?
ML: One of the most compelling features of Dan’s work is its play with scale. On the one hand, it is clear that the forms are meant to be read as objects in the landscape. On the other hand, they are clearly functional homes. The fact that they can be enlarged and reduced and rescaled as artefacts, almost at will, and certainly without losing their essence, speaks to how well considered they are. The Maté Residence is 1/4 full scale, which is large for a model but clearly small as a house. So, there should be an interesting, almost arresting dynamic as the viewer confronts this artefact. Are we suddenly four times normal size? Does vital information get lost or abstracted? Do we gain a radically new perspective? We want to ask: ‘Is it big or is it small?’ That ambiguity (of scale and size) is one of the strengths of Dan’s work, and we wanted to communicate this idea effectively in the exhibition space itself.
VG: I know that one of the curatorial intents was to have the gallery space make continual references to Dan White’s work. Could you speak to this?
GJ: Yes. Rather than introduce forms that competed with his work, we decided to use a limited palette that might complement and reinforce the reading of his own formal vocabulary. That is to say, we introduced the square, cube, diagonal, triangle, parallelogram, etc. as the principal components of the exhibition. So in a way, visitors can appreciate that the museum experience itself is a way of experiencing these abstracted forms at varying scales.
VG: The exhibition uses a multitude of representational methods to interpret Dan’s work: orthographic projections, physical models, 3D computer models, etc. Is there a subtext about the nature of drawing and modelling?
ML: Architecture suffers from a problem of appropriate representation. As Julius Shulman, one of the pioneer photographers of Modern Architecture, noted, it really wants to be experienced by all senses; so, any substitute for that experience – the model, the photograph, the drawing – won’t do justice to the original work. These limitations and challenges associated with architectural representation led us to emphasize the premise and concept of individual projects in evolution rather than the finished product.
VG: What about the large portrait of Dan, made up of small icons?
ML: One of Dan’s primary influences was Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the German architect who came to the USA in the 1930s. He designed the Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, in 1953, one of the most influential buildings of mid-century architecture. We were acutely aware of the graphic work the design firm 2x4 did with the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), at Mies’s Illinois Institute of Technology campus in Chicago. So, we liked the idea of a portrait that played with the idea of scale and could be constructed of icons representing Dan’s houses.
VG: How are you referencing other works in the exhibition?
ML: We decided that some of our research would involve looking at how the work of architects had been represented in museum and art gallery exhibitions. To start with the classics, there is Mies van der Rohe’s exhibition career, starting in 1926; the Existenzminimum of 1929 in Frankfurt; Hitchcock’s and Johnson’s seminal International Style, at the Museum of Modern Art, NY, in 1939. Of course, now it is not uncommon for architects to curate their own work; in fact, in the age of instant media, it is almost compulsory to embrace that approach as a form of advertising.
Inspirational were exhibition projects such as the Frank Lloyd Wright retrospective at the Guggenheim, NY (2009), ‘Content’ by OMA in Berlin (2003), and ‘Alvar Aalto in the Eyes of Shigeru Ban’ in London (2007), but also countless smaller exhibitions over the years, including ‘Art Into Life’ at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle (1990).
We tend to look at everything. Bik Van Der Pol’s ‘Butterfly’ installation (Rome, 2010) is one. ‘Grand Hotel’ at the Vancouver Art Gallery (2013), featuring the exquisite models of some of our collaborators, is another recent example. We thought that ‘Ron Thom and the Allied Arts’ at the West Vancouver Museum (2013) was extremely well designed and presented.